As Netflix Goes Global, Can It Avoid Regional Politics? Sign up for our Today In Entertainment Newsletter. Popular Christmas carols are ‘nonsense’ and have turned the birth of Short carols for kids in Russian Christ into a fairy story, according to a respected bishop.
In a new book on the festive period, The Right Reverend Nick Baines, the Bishop of Croydon, claims some of the nation’s favourite carols are ’embarrassing’ and ‘inaccurate’. He says the songs encourage people to believe that the story of Christ’s birth is as fictitious as Father Christmas or a pantomime story. Carol lovers, however, defended the traditional songs and say they help people to look beyond a ‘commercialised’ Christmas. The bishop was particularly scornful of Away In A Manger – a popular feature of nativity plays – which cannot be sung ‘without embarrassment’.
Rt Rev Baines claimed that some carols – particularly Once In Royal David’s City – foster images of a Victorian era rather than the true Biblical account of Christ’s birth. In Why Wish You A Merry Christmas – a new book published by the Church of England – the bishop also criticised schools which introduce snakes and grizzly bears to nativity plays. He said it had the effect of ‘relegating the story to fictional fantasy’. I always find it a slightly bizarre sight when I see parents and grandparents at a nativity play singing Away In A Manger as if it actually related to reality,’ he writes.
I can understand the little children being quite taken with the sort of baby of whom it can be said “no crying he makes”, but how can any adult sing this without embarrassment? He said that Jesus would be abnormal if he had not cried as a baby. If we sing nonsense, is it any surprise that children grow into adults and throw out the tearless baby Jesus with Father Christmas and other fantasy figures? Once In Royal David’s City has Jesus as “our childhood’s pattern” — even though we know almost nothing of his childhood apart from one incident when he was 12 years old and being disobedient to his parents — and invites children to be “mild, obedient, good as he”, which means what, exactly? This sounds suspiciously like Victorian behaviour control to me. Some of the traditional carols perpetuate images of Christmas that have more to do with Victorian sentiment than the story we actually read in the gospels. By ‘romanticising the festival and commercialising our culture’ Christmas has become ‘tame, fantastic and anaemic,’ he said.
Perhaps we need to recover the nativity play as something to be done by adults for children and not the other way round. Bruce Grindlay, the former director of music at Christ’s Hospital, Sussex, who is now headmaster of Sutton Valence School in Maidstone, Kent, said traditional carols are an integral part of Christmas. Some of the carols have a 800-year history and are so entwined into the fabric of our society that we often don’t need to give pupils the words for the first verse,’ he said. Younger children need a sanitised version of the nativity. It may not always be challenging but you need a certain amount of a saccharin glow to draw people in. By doing this it allows people to think beyond the commercialism of the festive period. Yesterday Rt Rev Baines said his comments in the book were part of a wider discussion about carols and the importance of Christmas.